Every day at the Air Force Theatre Hospital has been a little different for me. I’ve had rewarding days. I’ve had boring days. I’ve had angry days. I’ve had indifferent days. I’ve even had a few happy days.
In the three months I’ve been here, however, I haven’t really had a crying day.
Last week, I finally cried. There had been so many reasons to shed tears on this 120-day deployment, but as precious as water is in the desert, I suppose I thought I needed to conserve them until the end.
The tears started as I sat at my office desk. I think they caught my chaplain assistant off guard. What had brought the tears?
Both of us had a lot of guesses.
Perhaps my tears came while thinking of the soldier who recently lost his arms and legs. He and his battle buddy had been “med evac’d” out of the country so quickly, none of us really had time to cry for them.
As quickly as they left, another wounded squad arrived to replace them. They, too, had been blown apart by an IED.
Among them was a wounded medic who was tearfully asking whether she had done everything possible to save her battle buddy — an expectant father. He had pled with her to save him even as he bled to death.
Or were my tears for her other battle buddy who lay in a nearby bed, begging me to explain God’s purpose in all of this? His shoulders heaved as he asked for a new Bible to replace the one that had been blown up. Could I share with him a purpose?
Perhaps the tears were for the soldier who told me last month he was worried he’d grown used to killing insurgents. His eyes moistened as he told me how his parents saw him as a hero.
“They wouldn’t call me a hero if they knew what I do,” he declared.
“Is it normal to see killing as routine?” he asked. I assured him that he wasn’t crazy, or he wouldn’t have come to me.
While some of my tears were for him, I likely was thinking of my son, who joined the Marines two years ago.
“Dad, we’re learning to kill from 500 yards,” he wrote from boot camp, “Is it wrong to kill?”
I answered him with an ancient scripture: “There is a time to kill.” Sometimes, we are compelled to eradicate evil with deadly force. In so doing, we run a risk of destroying our own moral fiber.
In the process, tears will come. They are a way of protecting our core being. If we didn’t shed tears for such horrendous losses, we wouldn’t be human. That’s the simple difference between the good guys and the bad guys — we cry when we are forced to use violence; they don’t.
As I considered my tears, it occurred to me that maybe they were proud tears. We were asking so much of our young heroes. Most of them knew the price they’d pay, and many of them had overpaid.
“You going to be all right?” my chaplain assistant asked as the office phone rang.
It was the ICU. The soldier who asked about the purpose of all this wanted to see me again.
“I want you to pray, chaplain,” he said. “I want you to pray for the insurgents that did this.”
“What should I pray?” I asked.
The soldier responded by telling me to pray the prayer that Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
I’m not sure I’m finished crying.